If you’ve ever been in the situation where you find the same person seems to keep coming up in conversation with your partner, you may be familiar with the feeling of being in a relationship with someone who has a bad case of “mentionitis,” but you may not have realized until now that there’s a term for the condition—at least colloquially.
Mentionitis is when your partner just cannot. stop. talking about someone else. According to relationship experts, your S.O. constantly having someone else’s name on their lips isn’t inherently a problem or an indication of a wandering eye, depending on the context and motivation behind the name-dropping. Mentionitis could just be an annoying habit.
What is mentionitis and why would someone do it?
Whoever your partner keeps bringing up is someone who is on their mind, for whatever reason. “It means that person has captured their attention in some way and is holding a lot of mental real estate in your partner’s brain,” says Alexandra Cromer, LPC, outpatient therapist at Thriveworks.
Who is being mentioned is key to consider, along with exactly why this person is so prominent in your S.O’s thoughts, and therefore their words. A close coworker or friend who your partner spends a lot of their day with is bound to come up in conversation if you talk about what they did during the day. Likewise, family members could be a regular topic of conversation, too.
However, relationship expert Jess Carbino, PhD, former sociologist at Tinder and Bumble, says if the person in question doesn’t fall into one of these two categories, repeatedly mentioning someone else’s positive traits and habits could be your partner’s covert attempt to change your behavior. For example, maybe your partner is always mentioning a friend of theirs whose partner regularly cooks dinner or takes the lead on meal prep—this could be their way of trying to suggest (albeit clumsily) that this is something they want you to do, too. But Dr. Carbino says these roundabout influence attempts tend to backfire and are much better conveyed by having a clear, transparent conversation.
Cromer adds that she sees mentionitis come up a lot in sessions with couples, and cautions that it can cause conflicts because “it can very quickly turn into making predictive assumptions when you just don’t know what’s going on in their head.”
What does mentionitis mean for my relationship?
Because the motivation and context for mentionitis matters, what it actually means for your relationship varies widely. Your partner mentioning their mother all the time can be a minor annoyance, or it could be a not-so thinly veiled attempt to influence you to behave more like her.
Besides being annoying, mentionitis can amplify any existing trust issues or insecurities that already exist in your relationship or that you personally have. Because of this, it’s important to take your own personal baggage into consideration when thinking about how you feel about all the name dropping—dig into exactly why someone else’s name coming up is bugging you so much. For example, your annoyance could get the wheels of jealousy spinning, and Dr. Carbino says it’s key to ask yourself why that is. “It becomes an issue if you have a level of distrust in the person, and I think you need to know where that is coming from, especially if it’s a friend or their grandmother that they’re talking about all the time,” she says.
Of course, where jealousy can really kick in is if the person being mentioned is a potential—or even previous—romantic partner. But it’s important to note that your partner bringing up their ex or another friend or acquaintance isn’t always a sign they’re sprinting for the exits, attracted to this person, or carrying on an affair. In the case of an ex, Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, says they could just be grieving that relationship, especially if it’s a recent breakup, or even wishing that some aspect of what they had previously was more present in their current relationship; for example, maybe your partner and their ex traveled a lot, and the motivation behind the constant name dropping is because they miss that.
Before jumping to that conclusion, it’s important to gather some more supporting evidence beyond the name dropping. “It could mean that but it doesn’t necessarily mean that, and you have to do some deeper digging to understand why they’re bringing up their ex,” says Divaris Thompson. She recommends following the old adage many doctors are told when diagnosing ailments, to think horses, not zebras, when you hear hoofbeats; this means that you should examine the more common and potentially likely scenario before jumping to one that’s further afield.
“If they’re talking about this other person, but they never see them and they don’t interact with them much, I think it’s less threatening than someone they talk to and spend time with all the time, which are bigger red flags to me,” says Divaris Thompson.
What to do if you partner has mentionitis
If your partner is afflicted with a gift for gabbing about someone else and it’s really bothering you, all the experts say it’s time to have a conversation. It’s worth bringing it up instead of letting the behavior continue to go unchecked. Rather than speculate about what your partner means, ask them exactly why they are mentioning and thinking about this person so much.
To do this, start by asking if they notice they’re constantly name dropping this person. To do this, Cromer recommends approaching the conversation with curiosity and saying something like, “I notice you mention this person a lot and it kind of hurts my feelings” or “It makes me really worried, and I’d like you to help me understand why it’s so hard to get them off your brain.”
Tell your partner how the repeated mentions make you feel. To help the conversion go smoothly, Divaris Thompson recommends using “I” statements and owning your feelings to express how the mentionitis makes you feel. For example, if your partner keeps bringing up an ex and talking about how they loved to workout all the time, you could express that you don’t like being compared or that it makes you feel self-conscious, or that you feel jealous, or however you feel. The point is that you glean information from what they say and share your feelings. “It’s asking your partner and sharing with them that it makes you uncomfortable and seeing if your partner respects you enough to actually stop talking about that person,” says Divaris Thompson—she and her husband have a mutual rule that they don’t discuss other people they find attractive with each other (not even celebrities) because it can make the other person feel bad.
It’s also important to be realistic in your expectations. If your partner is always talking about a coworker yet you want to hear about their day, it’s probably not realistic to ask to never hear their name again; but asking someone to avoid repeatedly bringing up their ex makes more sense. Of course, you’re allowed to tell your partner how their mentionitis makes you feel—and to ask them to nip the name dropping in the bud if it’s causing issues.